Car Crashes Are No Accident

In this episode, I speak with transportation and safety expert Debbie Hersman. Debbie was previously the Chief Safety Officer and Senior Advisor to Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project. She served as the CEO of the National Safety Council, as a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, and was nominated by both President Bush and President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate four times.

Each year motor vehicle crashes take the lives of more than 40,000 people in the United States, and result in 2.7 million emergency department visits. Car crashes are the third leading cause of death for people under 55 and cost us $463 billion in wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, admin expenses, and property damage.

“These deaths have occurred for decades. They are considered, to some extent, like random events. They may occur one death at a time or two deaths at a time. We very infrequently pay attention to this at the top of the news, and I think we’re just very complacent about these fatalities, but I can’t tell you how many families have been impacted by accidents through the years. Somehow we accept these fatalities as the cost of mobility”. — Debbie Hersman

The thing about car accidents is that they are not accidents. They are completely preventable events, but reducing them requires collaboration between car manufacturers, policymakers, the justice system, and the healthcare system which deals with the aftermath. The aviation industry figured out how to bring stakeholders together to greatly improve safety— and my guest today thinks we need to do the same for cars using the Safe System Approach.

Topics covered:

  • If autonomous cars are really safer
  • Why females are at a greater risk of death and injury on the road
  • If ride-hail platforms like Uber and Lyft decrease drunk driving
  • Why we saw a 7.2% increase in traffic deaths during COVID, even though Americans drove 13% fewer miles
  • If voice-to-text data is safer than texting by hand (it’s not)
  • Why we should say car “crashes” and not “accidents”





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